Statistical precision

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Nick Bostrom argues that avoiding existential risk and existential loss should be a global priority. Dylan Matthews responds by stating that Bostrom’s argument relies on a false sense of statistical precision, and by questioning his assumption that people who might exist in the future should be counted equally to people who do exist today. This assignment asks you to present and assess Matthews’s critique, that is, identify the claim and its justifications.


Compose an essay discussing the following questions: 

• How would you characterize effective altruism? Are there good reasons to support this view?

• According to “existential risk obsessives,” why should effective altruists care about existential risk?

• What does Matthews mean when he says, “global poverty is a rounding error”? Is this an accurate characterization of Bostrom’s viewpoint?

• Are Matthews’s criticisms of Bostrom’s argument valid and reasonable? Why or why not?

Writing and Structural Notes:

• It is crucial that you present Bostrom’s argument and Matthews’s criticism.

• The presentation of somebody else’s argument should be done in your own words (i.e., not just a quotation), and should be done as clearly and plainly as possible.

• Present also your own take on Bostrom’s argument. That is, explain whether or not you agree with it and why: You may agree with a claim but not the justifications given for it. Conversely, you may agree with all the reasons given to support a claim, but not agree that they do in fact support the claim in question.

• Be sure to include a proper introduction and conclusion.

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